Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tips & Gadgets: Avoiding Mealtime Battles

I'm jinxing this, but here goes: We've enjoyed whine-free meals with our 5-year-old for a couple months now. And he's eating a more varied diet than ever.

It's been nothing short of a miracle, so I'll share the secret: We told him he could have plain cottage cheese if he didn't like dinner. He was thrilled. Problem solved.

Yep, it was that easy.

I read "How Cottage Cheese Saved My Life" over at It's Not About Nutrition (via Fix Me a Snack) and immediately pitched the idea to my son: It can be your choice. If you don't like what I make for dinner, you could have some plain cottage cheese, yogurt, or tofu. No more wailing and complaining. Deal?

Yes! he exclaimed. Cottage cheese! As enthusiastically as if I'd announced Handy Manny was moving in next door.

Do read Dina Rose's full post, but I'll outline the basic approach:
  • Make the backup consistent: Use the same thing as a backup every time, no exceptions. Always have it on hand.
  • Make it nutritious: No appeasing with pointless food.
  • Make it convenient: You're not preparing a special meal -- you're dishing something out in mere minutes. Or maybe your child can help herself.
  • Don't make it too enticing: The backup should be something your child likes, but doesn't love -- think unflavored yogurt, tofu, canned beans.
The first time out, my son started to howl about his dinner plate. We reminded him about cottage cheese, and he immediately calmed down and took us up on the offer. A handful of times over the next few weeks, he eyed his plate and politely requested cottage cheese.

Even better, this kid -- who used to wail about anything that wasn't pizza or pasta sans tomato sauce -- has been trying all sorts of food. Chili, salmon, black bean burritos, roasted chicken -- even spicy dishes at a Singaporean restaurant. Tomatoes, peppers, onions have been devoured with happy exclamations that he likes them!

He hasn't asked for cottage cheese in over a month. I think he's forgotten it's there.


Cindy Rowland said...

What a cool story! Sounds like you executed perfectly. Fingers crossed. Knock on wood and all that. Well done!

Cindy Rowland said...

oh, and one more thing...I love this approach because I've noticed that lately I've been cooking with the grown ups in mind more than the kids. If they don't like it, we have a back-up plan. And the grown ups get to rediscover some long-forgotten flavors.

Dina Rose said...

What a great story! I'm so glad you've found success with the backup plan. I would love to hear what foods others have used for the backup!


Leah said...

WOWW!!! I'm so trying this! THANK YOU!!!

Darienne said...

Dina, nice to see you here! I'm still floored by how well this has worked. And yes, Cindy, it's allowed us to focus more on adult meals. We've been trying to make some dietary changes, and as you can imagine what's good and appealing for the 30-somethings has been hard to sell to the under-6 set.

Cindy Rowland said...

To reply to Dina's question about what others are using for back up - I use yogurt more often than not. I've been known to throw a chunk of bread their way too. I'm not terribly consistent about it.

Sierra Black said...

This is a really neat idea. We don't need it much in our house, because I'm blessed with kids who are adventurous eaters. But I'm definitely holding it as a back-up. In general, we've always had a rule that the kids are not required to eat any particular food, but I am only preparing one meal and they can eat it or not.

Becky said...

I have one picky eater and our backup is...bread and butter. We always serve wheat bread (or sometimes corn muffins) so he always has something at the table he can eat. He will almost always eat that and a vegetable. It works great and I, too, find that I have branched out more in terms of trying new dishes since I don't worry about him any more.

Darienne said...

Becky, do you find he's a little more open to trying dinner when he has a backup? That was the unexpected part that blew me away. I'm curious if we're just lucky, or if others have that experience.


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